By Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations
Drew Monti recently got career win 2,000, but more important to the 27-year-old driver than accumulating victories is adding relationships.
Monti, a Buffalo native who began driving regularly in 2013 and received that year’s Rising Star Award from the Upstate New York chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association, is coming off a career-best year for purses, with $2.65 million, in 2021.
He made nearly 45 percent of his starts at Plainridge Park, where he finished third in wins behind two previous leading drivers at the track, Bruce Ranger and Shawn Gray, and second in earnings. His triumphs included six state-bred stakes, including two Massachusetts Sire Stakes championships.
In addition, Monti tied for third in wins at Batavia Downs in 2021 and tied for fifth at Buffalo Raceway. He also spent time early in the season at The Meadows, where he picked up 25 victories.
Monti hopes to use knowledge gained on and off the track to continue to build upon his successes this year.
“The experience of different tracks and different drivers always helps you as long as you’re receptive to what’s going on,” Monti said. “There are a lot of people out there, and people might not know their names, but they’re really good at what they do.
“And a lot of people that are good at something in this sport usually are pretty good at other things too. Those are the people I feel like I gravitate to. People that can do the whole job and can teach you.
“That’s how I’ve evolved. So many people have had an influence on me, one way or another. I try to sharpen my skills every year that goes by, every new place, and keep developing. I’ve gotten to be friends with a lot of different people, and that’s a great takeaway from it all. I think that’s the key to getting better.”
He added, “The job isn’t just on the track. Being able to manage yourself, your personality, that has its place. Of course, you have to do the right things on the track, but you have to be a standup guy and do right by people. You can’t get anywhere and earn respect if you don’t operate the right way.”
Monti followed his father, Darrin, and grandfather, Carl, into harness racing. He still helps manage a small stable in New York with his dad.
So far this year, Monti is second among drivers in wins at Buffalo Raceway, one victory behind Kevin Cummings. He will turn his attention to Plainridge when the track opens for its 2022 season on April 11. This will be Monti’s fourth year at the track. He finished second in wins in 2020 and fourth in 2019.
“I kind of found a little bit of a home at Plainridge,” Monti said. “I thought I had a great year, great sire stakes year, last year. I’m very proud of that. The people I’m set up with, they couldn’t be better. For one, Jimmy Nickerson, that’s my main client there. He’s treated me like family. When you have people like that, people that want to include you where it’s ‘we’ and not ‘I’, there is not a better feeling.”
Monti teamed with Nickerson for one of last year’s Massachusetts Sire Stakes championships, with 2-year-old male pacer Striking Impact. Monti’s other title came with 2-year-old male trotter Bill Bauer for trainer Paul Kelley.
“I’m definitely looking forward to when the racing picks up a little bit,” said Monti, who recently bought a house in Buffalo. “I’ve been having a very good meet at Buffalo, but it’s been only two days a week, which isn’t too busy. It’s harder to stay sharp. I’m anxious to get back at it five or six days a week.”
Buffalo races on Wednesdays and Saturdays now (adding Fridays in May). This Wednesday, Monti’s drives include Larjon Legacy for trainer Joe Skowyra in the $15,000 Fillies-and-Mares Open Pace. The 7-year-old mare arrived from Prince Edward Island in November and made two winless starts for her new connections but is 3-for-3 this season.
“She wasn’t bad (last year), but we had to make some changes,” Monti said. “Joe has done a great job with her. She’s been vicious. Her last start, she won in hand; the week before, she won in hand. There are some nice mares in there (Wednesday), it’s not like it’s a pushover race, but I think she will be tough to beat just because she’s been so good.”
As for getting his 2,000th win, which occurred March 12 behind Gerry Sarama-trained YS Lotus at Buffalo, Monti said it was “a big accomplishment.”
“I’m proud of it, very proud of it,” Monti said. “But I wasn’t hung up on it. For me, it’s been more like year by year trying to win more races, make more money, get out there more and more.”
And learn more and more. It all adds up.